Social…and more

By Pro Progressione

Three guests were invited to the Social… and more discussion: Piroska Móga, Viktoria Csaba and Balázs Simon. The discussion was moderated by Fanny Hajdú, drama teacher and founder of the CSÁO! drama pedagogy lab. During the discussion, we explored the theme of socially engaged art.

Piroska Móga, Piri, is an actor, director, theatre education specialist, founder and artistic director of the Y Group. The company’s repertoire has recently included theatre education sessions closely related to the topic of our conversation, and Piri is also the artistic director of the What’SAP project. What’SAP involves all three aspects of socially engaged theatre, so the two-year project works with disadvantaged people to create and perform theatre works and then seeks to find ways to perform them – now in a new medium. The project aims to bring about social change through the creative process.

Viktoria Csaba, Viki, is an operational staff member of IndaHouse Hungary, who in addition to her daily work as a volunteer mentor for children, is also a dancer, dance teacher and a newly graduated drama teacher. She was an active participant in the Academy for Actors of Social Change and Play! Mobile projects of Pro Progressione, and these experiences led her towards drama education.

Balázs Simon is the founder of the Street Theatre Creative Community Association (UtcaSZAK), a director who also played an important role in the founding of the Theatre and Art Base in Zsámbék1 and the Bárka Theatre2.

At Fanny’s request, he told us about the EXCEPT project of Pro Progressione and UtcaSZAK, which was implemented between 2013-2015, with the main aim of promoting the recognition of social arts as a profession, with the help of foreign and Hungarian participants who have been working in this field for a long time.

„The basic aim of this project was to try to present and treat this particular social art profile as {…} a profession with many legs, and to engage all kinds of partners to present themselves, who have been involved in this kind of artwork for a long time, and to share their experience.” – Balázs said.

At this point, Fanny asked the guests to tell us briefly about how they got involved with Pro Progressione. Piri started working with Pro Progressione in 2015, when she started doing work that required grant support. This collaborative work also led to the formation of the Y group, which became an umbrella organisation for Pro Progressione – and this collaborative work has continued ever since. She first encountered the genre of social theatre in Debrecen, where she watched an interactive play that was specialised for students that she decided to start working with the TIE genre (Theatre in education) – which led her to do a course in theatre education at the SZFE (University of Theatre and Film Arts).

Viki came across the Academy’s call through a fellow volunteer and, although she didn’t know exactly what she was going to meet, she signed up for the project’s summer academy. She didn’t get in the first time, but she did the second time, and the experience was so formative that she applied for (and recently successfully completed) a drama teacher training course.

Balázs connected with PP’s work through the EXCEPT project, but it was the Theatre and Art Base in Zsámbék that started him on the path toward social arts: he felt that what was happening there in the open space was an excellent basis for a ‘real’ theatre performance and that they had come up with something very new. They then managed to win a grant through competition for their play Pulcinella soldier, which was performed in rural venues where audiences did not expect to see theatre. From these experiences that the UtcaSZAK artistic community has grown. It was during the job that he realised how important it was to do this work and how much professional training was needed to do it well: „And then we kind of ran into the fact that there were a lot of practical issues and a lot of missing professional skills, or actually professions missing to be able to do this. I started to do psychology, I started to do sociology, I started to do Roman Studies at some level, and well, mental health stuff.” The first group that formed the UtcaSZAK burnt out after a year. In the first groups, there were no trained actors, and it turned out that this work required a different kind of experience – fortunately, the group was made up of very curious people who were terribly interested in life and who stuck together in the face of difficulties and new challenges. A big lesson from the initial work was that they found out: „we have slowly come to realise that going into these communities does not necessarily require a pithy theatrical performance, but something more nuanced or more polyphonic” – explained Balázs. By the time of the EXCEPT project, it had become a real question whether there were professionals at the international level with similar expectations and problems.

At this point, Fanny posed a new question to the guests: since the general experience shows that this work still lacks a status, there is no unity in the practice of social arts and therefore everyone has their own definition of social arts, she wondered how the guests would define it for themselves and others. According to Viki these are artistic processes where either social issues are addressed or socially disadvantaged communities are involved in the creative process. Piri mentioned the What’SAP project again, as it focuses on this very question: since there is no single term for social arts, not everyone understands it in the same way. The two-year project, in collaboration with TIE expert Adam Bethlenfalvy and partners from France, the Czech Republic and Serbia, aims to gather the professional principles that could provide a common basis for colleagues working in this field. Balázs said that social art targets a community where there are socially very vulnerable people without the opportunity to create. Participation is also important – not only as spectators, but also as creators, the people mentioned above will be involved in the work, and their mental state is expected to improve through creation. He sees this healing and helping intention as the key to the process, but emphasised that it is not good to “look down” on these people, as their life problems “could be our problems.”

Fanny has outlined what such programmes can bring to the people targeted by social art projects then she asked her panellists to formulate what this participation gives to the artist educators. Piri’s answer was community, while Viki emphasised the feeling of being recharged. Balázs’ response differed from the others: he said that for him this work is very tiring and that the community Piri mentioned is more experienced with his fellow creators, not with the people to whom they take the programme. But Balázs said that there is no denying that the change is very visible in the communities.

The guests were also prepared for the discussion with questions, which they asked each other at the end. Balázs Piri was asked about what kind of advice he would give to his former self if he could call back to the time when UtcaSZAK started. Balázs told his former self not to deny “the rough surfaces of reality.” Then he turned to Viki: having discovered in preparation for the interview that Viki was originally a chemical engineer, he wanted to know what she had learned from the process she had been through since the aforementioned summer academy. Viki said that, although she is not an artist on paper, she has been involved in dance since she was a child (both as a performer and as a teacher), so she nodded in agreement with Balázs’ conclusion (“You went after your dreams?”). Finally, Viki asked Fanny to tell us about one of her defining experiences of drama education, and she has an experience with the CSÁO! drama community to think of: last year, they started sessions with two small groups, but the personal part of their work together was interrupted by the pandemic. When they had the chance to meet again after the first wave had subsided, she was surprised but pleased to see that the two small groups had formed a large community – even though they had only been able to meet in a virtual space for a long time.

1 Theatre and Art Base in Zsámbék is an outdoor theater and arts venue which operates site 2002 on the former sovjet monument Rocket Base (Zsámbék) of the area.

2 Bárka Theater was a pioneer of witty and astonishing alternative performances aiming younger audiences.